Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blown Away

Most people have a pretty clear image in mind when they think of Ireland and the weather, and for a lot of time it is fairly accurate. Actual hurricanes don't usually feature, however, but that's what we got hit by on Monday, as you undoubtedly know.

There's plenty of idiots out there, as can be seen from the news reports featuring swimmers in Galway Bay in the background, though most people are sensible enough. I've been accused of being an idiot plenty of times, occasionally justified, though at the height of the storm I sure wasn't tempted to go out for a few miles. Instead I got my run in early, at around 7 o'clock in the morning when it was actually rather calm. It's all a matter of timing.

Let's step back a bit. I had been seriously worried last week about getting into an overtrained state again. As it turns out, that was a bit premature. The legs were tired because I ran twice a day two days in a row, which was a bit too much to handle. As soon as I reverted to running just once, the 23 hours of recovery time did the trick immediately. I felt perfectly fine on Saturday and even went out for a long run around the lake on Sunday, giving myself the option to bale out after 5 miles if the legs were tired but felt pretty good. Having said that, I am definitely still lacking strength, which gets shown up on all long climbs, which still feel much harder than they should. I am running plenty of miles these days but I need to incorporate a few hill runs as well, sooner or later.

Once the fatigue from the doubles went away my form curve shot straight upwards and all of a sudden I am starting to feel good. Really good! I did a few faster miles on Monday and averaged 7:40 in the end. This morning, Wednesday, was even better. I started out very slowly in order to gently warm up the muscles in the freezing cold but then got faster with each mile until I put in a 7-minute mile at the Sandymount promenade. Last month that pace put me into hospital. Today it was part of a run that still averaged a HR below 140!

As always, there's a fly in the ointment, though. While walking back to the office after a meeting last week (I would have cycled but you know yourself) I suddenly felt a pain at the upper end of my hamstring, maybe it was a glute muscle. It was uncomfortable for the entire rest of the day, including when I was sitting down. I was scheduled to run home that evening, which worried me, though when I tried to run it felt fine. Almost a week later I can still feel it, when running, walking sitting, even lying in bed. Nothing I do seems to aggravate it, so it's most likely just a case of being careful but otherwise just let it heal. I think something like hill sprints would worsen it, so I'm definitely not doing that for a while, otherwise I'll carry on as usual.
15 Oct
16.55 miles, 2:10:52, 7:54 pace, HR 144
16 Oct
9.35 miles, 1:11:34, 7:39 pace, HR 144
17 Oct
9.35 miles, 1:14:08, 7:55 pace, HR 136
18 Oct
am: 9.2 miles, 1:10:29, 7:39 pace, HR 139
pm: 9.25 miles, 1:17:13, 8:20 pace, HR 139

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Things Come In Threes

A friend of mine insists that bad things always come in threes, which is a really Irish thing to say. I don't believe in any of that crap but it made me think of him, so when I had my bike stolen and my job been put on the line on the same Tuesday morning I did wonder what other thing he would have added to make up the triple. Turns out, on that occasion he would have been perfectly right as Niamh called me later that day with the news that the washing machine had broken down. There you go.

Nevertheless, life goes on as normal. The washing machine is fixed already. The job may or may not continue, and if it doesn't I might get some redundancy payment that should last until I find a new one. And the bike was almost 10 years old with 1000s of miles of wear and tear, very much on its last legs and desperately needed replacing anyway - I very much doubt the scumbags got much for their loot. It's not the monetary loss that's the issue here - cycling is by far the fastest option to get into town and in around town as well, and not having a bike is a bloody inconvenience.

As it so happens, I had been planning on running twice a day on a few more occasions anyway, so with my most convenient commuting option gone I seized the moment and ran both in and out of work on Wednesday and Thursday. That's about 18.5 miles per day, but much easier than an 18+ mile long run in one go would have been.

Or at least so I thought.

What happened was that it went very well on Wednesday as well as Thursday morning, apart from the fact that the numbers looked much better in the evening than for the morning runs. However, as soon as I started Thursday's evening run I knew it wouldn't be much fun as the legs felt very tired. I hoped they'd come round after 2 or 3 miles but what actually happened was that I stumbled over a non-existing obstacle and face-planted. That happens only when you're tired, don't lift the legs properly and just shuffle along. I also banged up my knee, which I didn't notice until it stung in the shower later on, though there was no actual damage done.

Having said that, Friday morning was actually worse. The legs may have felt the same level of tiredness and I avoided any more accidents but when I got home and saw the numbers I realised that I had slowed down by almost a mile a minute! Yikes!

Now I was worried. I had only run 2 doubles, one more than 2 weeks ago, so it's not THAT much of a step up, is it? I had kept the effort easy, so I expected to be able to handle it. I guess I had not yet recovered fully from Monaghan, though I had not noticed any issues for the last 7 days. Was I due a break?

Well, as it happens, the luxury of 25 hours of recovery between runs seems to make all the difference. I went out on Saturday, back home in Kerry, to test out the legs and if they had felt tired I'd have gone back home straight away. However, quite to my surprise, I actually felt pretty good and kept going. I did limit myself to 8 miles in an attempt not to overdo it (again), but those 8 miles went very well, despite the strong wind not making things any easier. Still, I need to keep an eye on that, there's a hole somewhere that I don't want to dig myself into again.
11 Oct
am: 9.3 miles, 1:15:10, 8:04 pace, HR 143
pm: 9.2 miles, 1:12:39, 7:53 pace, HR 137
12 Oct
am: 9.25 miles, 1:13:17, 7:55 pace, HR 138
pm: 9.2 miles, 1:15:01, 8:09 pace, HR 135
13 Oct
7.2 miles, 1:03:06, 8:45 pace, HR 135
14 Oct
8 miles, 1:03:29, 7:56 pace, HR 141

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Not A Great Day

I woke up shortly before 6 o'clock, as I always do, but took my time to get ready because I was cycling to work this morning and had an hour to spare, which is nice. However, when I made my way down into the parking lot shortly after 7 o'clock my bike was gone. It had been secured against the bike stand, and I had a decent D-lock, but they cut through the bike stand instead and took my bike as well as a second one (to add to the insult, they left another one behind!).

On the bright side, the bike was almost 10 years old, not worth a lot to start with and very much on its last legs anyway, so I doubt they got anything for it. The lock and the new back light were worth more than the bike itself, I'd say.

I had to bring in some things into work, so running wasn't a great option and I made my way into town on public transport. It didn't matter that I was later than usual. We were all quickly ushered into a meeting, to be told that the company was closing down and we all had just a few weeks of employment left.

Fuck!

So, by 10 o'clock, I'd already had my fill of bad news. A friend of mine insists that things always come in threes though I could certainly do without another blow; just for today at least.

Real Life sucks. Running Life, on the other hand, which is my preferred life anyway, is still going smoothly. Who knows, I might soon have plenty of time do run an awful lot more.

I spent the weekend in Kerry, which meant I got to run along the lake, though I didn't do a full loop as I was trying to take it easy after last week's double header. The legs were moving quite well and my easy pace is improving quiet rapidly at the moment. Even so, I was really surprised to see such a low HR for 7:45 pace on Saturday. It went backwards a bit on Sunday, which shows that I'm still recovering. However, I met Sean at the end of my run, and the middle of his long run, and shared a mile with him. We didn't get to talk much as it was close to home already but it was nice to catch up again nevertheless. I might see him again in 3 weeks in Dublin.

I took it seriously easy on Monday, especially as I was carrying a backpack, which I usually try and avoid. Still, despite taking it really really easy I still averaged close to 8-minute miles, so who's complaining. Tuesday evening was ever so slightly different after receiving those hammer blows in the morning, but the run did me some good, mentally especially. And hey, it was my fastest run in a while - not entirely coincidental!

Let's see what happens now. I have money saved to keep me going for a good while, so we're not about to get kicked out onto the streets any time soon.

Say, you don't know someone looking for a senior IT developer or team leader in Dublin, do you?
7 Oct
10 miles, 1:17:30, 7:45 pace, HR 140
8 Oct
12 miles, 1:34:10, 7:50 pace, HR 142
9 Oct
9.35 miles, 1:16:06, 8:08 pace, HR 135
10 Oct
9.3 miles, 1:11:16, 7:39 pace, HR 144

Friday, October 06, 2017

A Numbers Game

I had been a bit worried about running back-to-back marathons. Not so much about the running itself, I know I can do that, but about recovery afterwards. I don't want to put myself back into a hole by neglecting my recovery, and I would not like to miss weeks of proper training either due to the body still in bits.

Well, wouldn't you believe it, the numbers this week have actually been nothing short of astounding. I took it really easy the two days after Monagahan, even starting with a 10-minute mile, but could tell as early as Tuesday that my legs were handling this exceptionally well. There was only a trace of stiffness left in the glutes on Wednesday, and even that seemed to disappear after a mile or two. And while I never once checked my watch to see how fast I was going (same as during the actual races, incidentally) I could tell that I was speeding up almost with each mile throughout the week.

On Thursday I posted the best HR/pace numbers I have all year, just 4 days after a double marathon, which absolutely amazed me. I won't get carried away just yet - in April I posted some numbers almost as good, only to get injured a week after the Longford Ultra. It's a lesson I have not forgotten yet. That injury had been caused by one single workout. The workout itself had gone astonishingly well, only for my Achilles to act up a day later, which took almost 2 months to clear up. There is no way of predicting injury but it is safe to say that I was not tempted to do a workout this week, or at the weekend for that matter.

Instead I explored the Cherrywood neighbourhood a bit closer, and I also added a run from work to Phoenix Park (and back) one morning. I'll still go easy on the miles this weekend - well, that's all relative; I won't be doing a long run - but if things are still good on Monday then I'm ready to go back to the mileage I had been doing before Monaghan.

I think I have finally recovered from Albi, both the race itself as well as the misguided training that had preceded it. I haven't felt as strong as I do now for a very, very long time. I fact, I had started to wonder if I would ever feel like that again, or if age had finally caught up with me. I guess there is still some life left in the old dog yet.
3 Oct
5.5 miles, 50:22, 9:09 pace, HR 125(!!!)
4 Oct
6 miles, 49:02, 8:10 pace, HR 136
5 Oct
7.1 miles, 55:44, 7:51 pace, HR 137
6 Oct
8 miles, 1:01:53, 7:44 pace, HR 143

Monday, October 02, 2017

One For Joy, Two For ... More Joy!

If I were still living in Kerry I would not even have contemplated driving to Monaghan for a marathon. That drive would just have been insanely long. From Dublin, however, it was just a bit over 2 hours, which by Kerry standards would almost qualify for a local race. A couple of months ago I had asked if there were any back-to-back marathons coming up, so when Les contacted me he did not have to do much to sell it to me.

Not that I knew much about what was in store. A quick search on strava pointed me towards some forest park and some hills, but that was it. So when just over 100 runners assembled on a glorious Saturday morning I still had no real clue where we would be going but I was looking forward to it nevertheless.

What was in store were 5 loops through Rossmore Forest park, and the way the road headed straight upwards for the first mile provided a clue what it would be like. To be honest, for the first 2 miles I hated it. I did not mind the gradient, I can handle a few hills. However, the stony gravel path hurt my feet with each step, and I'm a road runner, not accustomed to that sort of surface. In addition to that, my strength has always been to be a very efficient runner, getting bouncy energy back from each stride, which does not work on a softer surface (which is why I'm so poor at cross country), which meant I had to work a little bit harder with each step. However, the forest surroundings must have soothed me; halfway through the first loop the feet had grown accustomed to the surface and the forest park was just magnificent, I could not get enough of the views. The course itself kept zig-zagging through the park, up one hill, down another, past some lakes and rivers, and past a lovely meadow at the end. The very last bit was back on tarmac, towards the start/finish area before we got to do it all over again.

At first I was in fifth position but moved up to fourth by the second loop. One runner was right at my heels but never attempted to pass, so we just kept going. I could see one other runner not too far ahead, which made navigation easier as I could just follow him instead of having to rely on the signage (which, btw, was excellent, thank God for that with a dozen junctions at least per loop). It helped that it was a crispy clear sunny morning, which only helped to improve the magic of the forest.

The miles just flew by and the hills never bothered me. There was one steeper downhill section during the fourth mile which I immediately dubbed the "fun bit", just lean forward and spin the legs and hope for the best; it may have risked smashing your quads to smithereens for the later miles but I had far too much fun to worry about that now.

During the third loop I quickly caught up to the runner ahead and all of a sudden found myself in a podium position, which had not happened in a long while, and in fact I had started to doubt if that was ever going to happen again. It was not exactly a highly competitive field, true, but I still enjoyed being in the top three once more, absolutely. Just like in the good old days!

Anyway, I had a few minor problems during the fourth loop, including the fact that my glasses had literally rubbed off a piece of skin at the bridge of my nose. It did not hurt, but it bled quite a bit. I could have gone for a gruesome look but instead kept wiping it off - wearing an orange t-shirt help camouflaging the problem. The other runner, still on my heels almost 20 miles into the race, was worried about losing his pacer but I reassured him I was okay. The other, much more noticeable issue, was my asthma, which kept acting up. I managed to get enough oxygen into me with each breath even on the steeper uphill bits but I must have sounded like I was about to collapse. I'm sure I worried a few people, sounding like a steam engine on its last legs, but I felt a lot better than I sounded.

Anyway, we were soon on the last lap, which I did welcome because at some point past 20 miles the legs did indeed start to feel all the hills, though I managed to keep a good, relaxed rhythm going. I still had that other runner right at my heels, by now having exchanged a few words every now and again, and was wondering if I should offer to run into the finish together when he started to fall back. I wasn't trying to drop him and had not increased the effort but I guess he felt the miles a bit more than I did. Never mind, I just made my way home on my own and finished the marathon in a high 3:27. I had never once looked at my pace on the watch throughout the entire race; the first time I knew how fast I had been going was when I got to the finishing gantry. The timing was manual and they gave me 3:25 in a spreadsheet I saw the next day, but my watch definitely said 3:27, so that's what I'm going with. I finished in third place, apparently only a minute behind the two leaders.

Being a single parent, if only temporarily, meant I could not stay in Monaghan overnight and had to head back to Dublin and therefore had another early rise Sunday morning. I tried to follow a recovery protocol as much as I could (apart from sitting in the car for a couple of hours), and if you heard some high-pitched shrieking emanating from South Dublin direction on Saturday evening, that was me getting into an ice bath. That was probably the hardest part of the weekend. Give me a couple of marathons any time, but don't torture me like that!

Anyway, whatever I did must have worked because the legs felt surprisingly good on Sunday, even if my sleep had not been the best. It was deja vu all over again as I headed up the N2 again, ready to do it all over again. This time it was windy and raining, but what can you do. You don't get too many days like we'd had on Saturday in that part of the world.

This was the main part of the race weekend with well over 600 runners, including a half marathon. The course differed slight from Saturday as the first loop was to be through Monaghan town before we returned into the forest for 4 more loops of the same. Looking at the data afterwards I can see that I started a bit too fast, close to 7:30 pace for the first 2 miles, but eventually settled into a nice steady rhythm again. The legs felt so much better than expected, I was amazed! I had expected to suffer a lot today but instead I got to enjoy yet another marathon, rain be damned. After a few miles I had the same runner again on my heels, but this time I finally knew his name, Ken, after chatting for a while after the race on Saturday. He mentioned running a lot on trails in California, and I only caught on later that I should have asked him about Western States and some of the famous trail races there. Ah well, I might get the chance again some day.

Anyway, we kept churning out the same loops again, just like on Saturday. There was a hickup after loop 3 when I tried to pick up my drinks bottle, which I had prepared before the race, but the table wasn't where it had been before and I lost some time, getting frustrated with the situation and the volunteers who didn't seem to know what I was talking about. Three or four times I asked where that drinks table was, getting a tad louder each time, until someone pointed me to the re-positioned drinks table (right there, but it can be hard to see those things after a couple of hours of running). I didn't lose much time, probably less than half a minute, but for a moment I had let frustration get the better of me (probably not helped by the fact that just before that a truck had cut straight ahead of me into a driveway, making me run around him, which really annoyed me). I tried to put that minor hickup out of my mind and eventually got back into a rhythm.

I caught back up with Ken when he was walking up the first hill. I tried to goad him back into running but he said he had a cramp, and that was that. He would battle cramps for the last 10 miles on all uphills but managed to fly down the downhills, so it could have been worse, I suppose. My own race got a little bit more difficult as the hills seemed to grow with each lap and the asthma got worse with each hill but I managed to keep going. In fact, I'm pretty sure I made quite some progress through the field during the last 2 laps. I was still moving somewhat okay well for the final lap, the glory stretch, but was definitely getting closer to my limits now. Another lap or two might have gotten ugly, but I got away with it.

Once again, I finished the marathon without checking the pace on my watch even once and once more only saw my time when on the finishing stretch. It was a few minutes slower than yesterday, not surprisingly, at 3:33:45. The first thing I did was to seek out the volunteer from two laps earlier and apologised for raising my voice - they deserve so much better, especially on a rainy day like today. She was very gracious about it - thank you!

I was more than happy with all that. I was even happier later on when they calculated the times for the back-to-back marathons and I had moved up one spot into second. Not only that, they even had an actual podium there for us to stand on during the prize ceremony. Maybe it's not a big deal but I don't remember ever standing on an actual podium, and really enjoyed that moment.

I had expected to suffer through the miles today. Instead I got a prize and the glory of standing on a podium (I might have mentioned that before). Monaghan was certainly worth a trip. Two, even. As things stand, I can't wait to get back next year. You should, too.

28 Sep
9.2 miles, 1:13:52, 8:01 pace, HR 144
29 Sep
9.35 miles, 1:16:58, 8:13 pace, HR 141
30 Sep
Monaghan B2B marathon, part 1
3:27:55, HR 149, 3rd place
1 Oct
Monaghan B2B marathon, part 2
3:33:45, HR 145, 2nd place overall
2 Oct
5 miles, 45:42, 9:08 pace, HR 129

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Darkness Falls

Who turned off the lights? Tuesday morning I ran through Clonkeen Park and was tempted to stop for a photo because it looked so pretty with the morning mist at sunrise. Two days later, at the same time, the entire place was still pitch black. I'm pretty sure the heavy cloud cover had a lot to do with that change but still! Obviously, that same cloud cover turned into heavy rain later on, not that a few rain drops particularly bothered me. I've spent more than enough of time in Kerry to get used to that.

As for my body, it seems to thrive on the higher mileage. I hit 80+ miles last week and the legs seem to respond. The "heavy legs" days seem to became rare and the "feeling good" days are taking over. It's not all perfect, though, it never is. I can feel the asthma during the early miles on at least half of my runs. The good news is that I always get enough oxygen for 8-minute miles, and the pressure in my chest seems to lift after a while. Most of my runs follow the same pattern, a very slow starting mile, gradually picking it up and getting towards some decent pace near the end. I got down to about 7-minute pace the other day feeling perfectly comfortable, the same pace I struggled to keep for that ominous parkrun a few weeks ago, and this time I didn't feel the need for an ambulance

Still, a few years ago my marathon pace was still over 20 seconds per mile faster than that, and I'm a long away away from that - not that I'm training for a fast marathon, but I sure liked being in that kind of shape.

I'm particularly happy how the legs responded to running twice on Thursday. I was a bit worried they'd be heavy for a while but that was not the case. Following that, Sunday's long run itself wasn't particularly great but didn't seem to tax me at all - Monday was the best day in weeks!

I'm definitively getting some consistency back into my training. I think that had been lacking for a while. Maybe that's the missing ingredient.

Anyway, I have a very heavy load ahead of me on the weekend. When living in Kerry I would never have considered a marathon in Monaghan, it's an insanely long drive. Now that I'm based in Dublin, the entire island seems to have shrunk into acceptable range and I'm looking forward to adding another county to my marathon list. Plus, they have a food festival on at the same weekend - perfect! That's the recovery sorted already.
22 Sep
9.25 miles, 1:14:55, 8:05 pace, HR 142
23 Sep
9.25 miles, 1:14:37, 8:03 pace, HR 147
24 Sep
18.5 miles, 2:33:55, 8:19 pace, HR 141
25 Sep
9.1 miles, 1:12:38, 7:58 pace, HR 139
26 Sep
9.2 miles, 1:14:07, 8:03 pace, HR 144
27 Sep
9.2 miles, 1:12:53, 7:55 pace, HR 144

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Run Commute

Its early morning, just after 6 o'clock. I open the blinds and it's still dark outside - summer is definitely over. No matter. I have been awake for 90 minutes already and by now staring at the ceiling has lost its attraction.

I don't eat before running so it doesn't take me long to get ready - with 15 minutes I'm out of the house. There's a lady walking her dog, otherwise the apartment blocks are completely quiet.

And yet, as soon as I get to the road it's already very busy, there is a never-ending stream of cars. What a contrast to Caragh Lake where I would encounter a car every 3 miles on average at this time of the morning. Aren't the Irish all supposed to be night owls?

I get away from the roads again as I turn into Kilbogget park, which is very quiet again, apart from the odd dog walker. That park leads straight to another one, Clonkeen Park, both of them long thin green ribbons tucked away from the road, though you can hear the noise from the N11 loud and clearly. Deansgange awaits about 5k into my run, and the next few miles are along another road, not too busy but still. Today I get lucky with the green lights, I don't have to stop. At Blackrock, now halfway through my commute, I turn off the road again, past the DART station and into Blackrock Park. By now it's reasonably bright, though the sun remains hidden behind the clouds. At Booterstown I have another few miles beside the road, now very busy, and if I'm unlucky then I have to wait several minutes at the Merrion Gates level crossing. Why they have to close the barriers several minutes before the train passes is a bit of a mystery to me, it causes massive tailbacks for the commuters and only encourages dangerous behavior by trying to cross until the very last second before the gates close - drivers and cyclists being guilty at the same rate!

Anyway, today the gates are already closed as I get near them but I only have to wait a minute. I do wonder if such an enforced break has any impact on training effect - I've heard conflicting stories, not that I can do anything about it.

Once the gates finally open I'm soon on the Sandymount promenade, probably my favourite section of the run. The Poolbeg peninsula keeps coming closer and closer and I do encounter the odd runner. A lady gives me a sideways glance as we pass each other, in contrast to the usual stare-straight-ahead" method favoured by most Dublin runners.

I run through Sean Moore park where yesterday another runner started chatting to me - that's a first in the 5 months I've been running in Dublin, and a nice change to the usual urban anonymity and isolation. Today there is no repeat, I run through the park unnoticed, and the next one, Ringsend park, as well. I get to the office well before 8 o'clock, enough time for a shower and breakfast before most of my colleagues arrive. Today I'll be running twice, run-commuting in both directions. It's the first double day of this training cycle but hopefully the first of many. I'm nowhere near as fit as I'd like to be but I have many months and many miles to get ready.
18 Sep
9 miles, 1:14:17, 8:15 pace, HR 140
19 Sep
9.25 miles, 1:12:09, 7:48 pace, HR 150
20 Sep
10 miles, 1:22:49, 8:16 pace, HR 148
21 Sep
am: 9.25 miles, 1:15:28, 8:09 pace, HR 144
pm: 9.2 miles, 1:13:13, 7:57 pace, HR 144

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Minors

Maybe it's something to do with Kerry. As soon as I got home my throat was feeling sore again. I have no idea why. This time it wasn't the long drive because we took the train instead, which, according to Niamh, is much more relaxing. To be honest, I'm not convinced. We arrived no earlier than last week and I don't find sitting in a train any more relaxing than driving - it does have the advantage that I can read a book but to be honest that was mostly to alleviate the boredom. And when I think of the train tickets prices in Ireland my blood pressure just rises, which isn't particularly relaxing either,

Anyway, that's the way my life is these days, weeks in Dublin and weekends in Kerry, and while I do enjoy both it's the travelling between the two that I haven't cracked yet.

On Thursday I decided to do a bit of a workout again, a fairly moderate one. I did a few hill sprints, this time in Kilbogget park rather than closer to home, which gave me a slightly longer hill to play with. The problem is that I get that pressure in my chest a few seconds after each repeat. I had the same happening last year but this year the thing seems to have grown into full-blown exercise-induced asthma, which makes me question if those hill repeats are a good idea. I love the effect they have on my legs but if I can't breathe properly for 2 days afterwards then that's obviously not ideal.

This has been going on for a while now, so I think I'll start talking to a doctor about it. One problem is of course that I have to be careful about taking banned substances, and inhalers do have a reputation for being abused by athletes that are not actually asthmatic. It needs some careful consideration - my health comes first but under no circumstances do I want to break any doping rules.

Anyway, I was back home in Kerry on Saturday and did that 10 mile Caragh Lake run that I must have done a thousand times by now. My breathing was definitely constricted, which did not feel particularly nice, but I was still able to sustain 8-minute pace without getting out of breath.

On Sunday I ran around the lake, for the first time in a rather long time. It was freezing cold at the beginning and it didn't help that my gloves were in Dublin but thankfully it started to warm up just as I left the house. The long, long climbs showed up a significant lack of leg strength and I suffered a bit through the miles, the legs only just managing to keep running and the lungs only just managing to provide sufficient oxygen - not a great run by any means but I got it done and there will be better ones in store. I need to run more hills, though.

And massive congratulations to Star of the Laune club mate Fiachra Clifford who scored 2 goals in today's minor final at Croke Park. I know football is his major love but if that doesn't work out he will always have another sport t fall back on - he's also quite some runner!
15 Sep
10 miles, 1:22:48, 8:16 pace, HR 143
   incl 5 hill sprints and a few laps around Kilbogget dirt track
16 Sep
10 miles, 1:19:56, 8:00 pace, HR 145
17 Sep
16.6 miles, 2:16:13, 8:12 pace, HR 145

Friday, September 15, 2017

Virus

I spent the weekend in Kerry, as I do most weekends. Of course I want to spend time with my family. However, there is a drawback, apart from the head-wrecking long drive.

Schools have started again, and with that goes the fact that the kids are picking up viruses and bringing them home. They were all a bit under the weather and by the time I got back to Dublin I started feeling it as well. I had a sore throat on Monday morning and a splitting headache a few hours later. I slept really badly on Tuesday but made up for it on Wednesday (I can't remember when I last slept for 8 hours solid).

The next fee days all followed a similar pattern. I felt perfectly okay first thing in the morning, developed a splitting headache a few hours later, felt completely devoid of energy and ready to drop after lunch only to gradually recover and start feeling fine again by 4 or 5 o'clock. That describes Monday to Wednesday, but today, Thursday, I seem to be pretty much over it, in contrast to the kids back in Kerry who are still suffering from it.

All the while I kept passing the neck test, i.e. no symptoms below the neck, so I kept on running every day. That was a mixed bag; the legs felt really tired on Monday, most likely from the increased weekend mileage rather than the virus, so I kept it really slow and easy. They felt miraculously recovered by Tuesday, despite the lack of sleep preceding that run.

Wednesday's run was very tough initially. I felt a triple whammy of the cold, the asthma and what I thought was low blood sugar, and really suffered through the first few miles. I would have cut the run short except that it was my commute back home and I had no real alternative than to keep going. Then, 4 miles into a real sufferfest, a miracle happened and I transformed Lazarus-like into a proper runner. In fact, I felt really good, so good that I added a victory lap at home to make it a 10 mile run. And I could hardly believe the watch when I saw that I had averaged faster than 8-minute miles - after the first few miles I thought I'd be lucky to break 9!

For some reason my HRM seems to have gone on strike after 4 miles on Wednesday as well as Thursday. On both occasions it started out perfectly fine only to start measuring a heart rate of over 180 from halfway on. I know perfectly well that it was still in the 140s on both occasions. I took the HR from the first half to make an educated guess of the final value. Not a biggy - but a bit annoying for a numbers geek like me all the same.
11 Sep
8 miles, 1:08:08, 8:31 pace, HR 143
   feeling the cold
12 Sep
8.15 miles, 1:03:43, 7:49 pace, HR 147
   not feeling the cold
13 Sep
10 miles, 1:19:04, 7:54 pace, HR 145
   feeling the cold until half way
14 Sep
10 miles, 1:21:44, 8:10 pace, HR 141

Sunday, September 10, 2017

No Hurricane In Ireland

It must be old age, but time really is flying. It's already mid-September. Where did the year go? What did I miss? And how come my youngest son, the little baby that was born only just yesterday or a few days before that, is suddenly talking in such a deep voice?

Though I can tell you one moment when time is not flying - when you're stuck near bloody Naas, trying to get home on Friday evening. Once schools re-started, traffic in and around Dublin went from bad to atrocious. I really don't know how people who experience that every day cope. It drove me bananas after just 3 days. This Friday it took me almost 3 hours from Ringsend via Dundrum (that didn't help, obviously) to the junction past Naas. On an open road I'd be in Kerry already by that time!

Anyway, I made it home. Before that I managed to resurrect my run commute after taking it easy for a few days following the marathon, which went well.

Saturday morning the legs must have cherished the oh so familiar Caragh lake road, they just took off. Time seemed to fly - before I knew it I was 5 miles away from home and turned around, and then I must have blinked because all of a sudden I was almost back home again.

Inevitably, Sunday was payback time. The chest felt constricted again, though that didn't impact on my run, but the tired legs did. It didn't help that it was windy and at times raining heavily, but I kept thinking of some friends in Florida, and in comparison to what they are going through right now our own little weather system doesn't even register. Anyway, the last five miles really dragged on, especially as they were against the wind, but by mentally cutting the route into small chunks I managed to make the rest of the run easier to cope with.

Oh and a colleague of mine is doing Ironman Wales right now, I bet he could do without the wind (he's a third into the bike as I'm writing this). Good man, Neil!
7 Sep
9.15 miles, 1:14:04, 7:59 pace, HR 145
8 Sep
8 miles, 1:04:29, 8:03 pace, HR 143
9 Sep
10 miles, 1:19:06, 7:54 pace, HR 148
10 Sep
15 miles, 2:00:27, 8:02 pace, HR 146

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Recovery

I haven't got all that much to say right now, except that recovery from Dingle is going really well, much better than anticipated.

How you recover from a workout tells you more about your conditioning than how the workout itself went, and as pleased as I was with the run in Dingle, this is even better news.

I was a bit sore on Sunday, no surprise here. I did the usual 5-mile recovery run to Ar-na-Sidhe, which is what I always do after a marathon. On Monday I was back in Dublin and since traffic has gotten exponentially worse since schools started again I swapped my routine of running at home and then driving to work around by first driving to work and then run a few miles near my work place. Thankfully they have showers at work! Even so, the commute took me twice as long as it should have, even at 7 o'clock in the morning.

There are actually plenty of running options in and around Ringsend; I chose to run towards Poolbeg, turning round after 2.5 miles. I did more of the same on Tuesday, except that I left home 15 minutes earlier, which took 10 minutes off the commute, which I used to run towards Poolbeg again but this time all the way out to the lighthouse. It was actually further than I thought it would be (that sea wall really is long!) and I ended up with 8 miles on the day. By now the legs felt much better, there was just a trace of soreness left in the right quads, and that was barely noticeable. Still, just to be sure I'm not overdoing it I stepped back to 5 miles on Wednesday morning, this time heading up the Dodder towards Herbert Park.

By now the legs feel fully recovered and the HR this morning was significantly better, the best numbers in this cycle so far, which was really good to see.

I'll re-start my running commute tomorrow morning. That will be a relieve. I hate being stuck in traffic!

Oh, and Dingle Marathon have replaced their Facebook cover photo with the one of the 3:30 group I used in my race report. Very nice!
4 Sep
5 miles, 41:39, 8:20 pace, HR 142
5 Sep
8.15 miles, 1:07:21, 8:16 pace, HR 143
6 Sep
5.5 miles, 44:09, 8:02 pace, HR 141

Sunday, September 03, 2017

The Wet Wild Atlantic Way

And so, exactly one week after being transported in an ambulance to A&E with chest pains, I found myself on the start line of the Dingle marathon. As daft as that may sound, this was my first ever race for which I had been specifically cleared to run by a cardiologist, so I wasn't worried about dropping dead. What I DID worry about was the fact that I had not run more than 10 miles in one go for over 2 months; I expected some serious amount of suffering to come my way, especially with that big hill at mile 22.

I got to the start with less than 15 minute to spare - I wish they had told us about the roadworks on the Dingle road beforehand. And my night before the race had been rather restless, as always before a big race. But when I got to the start I met Stephen and Tony and Seamus and a few more, and somehow it felt like I had never been away.

Photo by Chris Grayson
Just like last year I joined in with the 3:30 pace group of Chris and Fozzy, and just like last year it felt ridiculously easy for the first half. In fact, several times I found myself drifting slowly ahead of the pack until I realised I was well ahead of them and took it easy for a minute or 2 until they had caught up again. It was a rather conservative way to run a marathon but with my lack of specific endurance fitness I preferred it that way.

When I had checked the weather forecast on Wednesday it promised a dry and overcast day, perfect for running. Alas, by Friday they had changed their mind and from 10 o'clock on we would be running in wind and rain, with plenty of both in store. Of course it was the latter forecast that proved to be correct and from about 6 miles on we had a full-on experience of the Wild Atlantic Way.

It was a shame as the absolutely stunning scenery is the major draw of this race. Of all the races I have done, this one and Achill Island are outstanding even amongst tough competition in the scenery stakes, but today we didn't get to see all of it. Slea Head and the Blaskets were as stunning as ever and the Seven Sisters still looked good in the mist but the Skelligs and much else was kept hidden.

Anyway, as the road dropped down into Dunquin for the finish of the half marathon I once again found myself a bit ahead of the pace group and decided that I had played it safe for long enough and just kept going. It was only marginally faster than 3:30 pace, so the risk I ran by running a few seconds faster per mile was rather negligible. Another runner seemed to latch on to me and I kept hearing his footsteps for miles and miles after that - not that I minded, I have done the same plenty of times. Together we gradually roped in a couple of runners ahead of us at the rate of about 1 per mile, but the effort still felt surprisingly easy. Even with all the hills and the blustery wind I found myself feeling surprisingly fresh even after the 15 mile mark, something I had not expected.

Photo by Chris Grayson
The wind threw in a few extra challenges. It was strong enough at times to feel like it was going to blow me off my feet and constantly changing direction. We would have it right in our faces at times, almost bringing us to a standstill, only to blow us forward again just a minute later. At least we did not have a straight headwind for over 10 miles, something I had worried about earlier on.

Alas, it was not going to last forever. As we got into Ballyferriter at mile 18 it felt like someone had tied a piece of string around my windpipe and pulled it tighter and tighter. I still managed to get just enough breath to keep going at roughly the same effort level but any faster and I would be unable to get enough oxygen into the system. With 8 miles still to go that wasn't ideal but I was still running and just tried to keep things under control.

Eventually that runner behind my back drew level and it turned out to be John. "I had no idea it was you following me" - "sorry, without my glasses I don't recognise anyone 2 feet away" (a problem I'm familiar with) and we chatted a bit while running together for the next 3 miles, which helped pass the time and took my mind off the breathing issues. Eventually he pulled away from me and since that big hill was just about to start I knew I would not be able to keep up with him anyway.

The next miles were definitely a struggle. The legs, while clearly tired, were still in reasonable shape but my lungs were not and all I could do was suck in air as through a straw and jog up the hill at a very slow pace. I could hear the 3:30 group catching up very quickly and I must have sounded pretty bad because Chris and Fozzy both inquired in a rather more worried tone than usual if I was okay.

I knew I would be okay as soon as I got to the top of that hill but it's a bloody big hill and I lost a fair amount of time. I doubted Chris' appraisal of the situation that I would catch up with them again - last year they had caught me exactly here as well and I never managed to close that gap again, though back then the problem had been cramps rather than asthma, which is rather different. By the way, I had no issue with cramps today, probably because of the easy effort for so many miles.

Anyway, I eventually made it up to the top of that hill, close to the 23 mile mark. I had 3.5 miles left at that point and once the road stopped climbing I quickly got my breath back and started to spin the legs a bit. I was pleased to see them respond enthusiastically, my quads were in very good condition and relished the downhill. I threw in a 7-minute mile, which carried me past the 3:30 boys again and I sailed past a few other runners as well, feeling good.

One more twist in the tail of the Dingle marathon route is that the road at that point is completely straight for over 2 miles and just seems to go on forever. At first you have the benefit of the downhill gradient going for you but then that flattens out and you still have a long way to go, and this time we really were heading right into a relentless headwind, with tired legs and tired minds. I can only suggest not to look ahead as the end never seems to come any closer but just look at the road right in front of your feet and just take it one step at a time, and eventually, after an age, you get to Milltown and then finally the t-junction at the end.

After 3 strong miles I did struggle again over the last half mile, my breathing becoming increasingly more erratic but it sounded worse than it was and I knew this would be over soon enough. Still, I don't remember the road towards the Marina ever taking quite so long, it sure had expanded since last time. But of course eventually that was behind me as well and I crossed the finish line in 3:28:31 on my watch, certainly better than I had expected and the legs still in surprisingly good shape.

I had taken a very conservative pacing approach to this race and I'm sure I could have run a few minutes faster but this was a training run, very early in the program, and I'd much rather err on the side of caution. The breathing was a problem over the last few miles but I hope this will eventually sort itself out. The legs were in much better shape than I could have hoped for, and that's what I'm mostly focusing on.
2 Sep
Dingle marathon
3:28:31, 7:57 pace, HR 153
3 Sep
5 miles, 45:19, 9:03 pace, HR 137

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Unkraut Vergeht Nicht

I did not run on Sunday. I was too tired after the mostly sleepless night in A&E, and I wanted to spend what was left of the weekend with my family rather than head off on my own.

So I was back again on Monday. They told me to take it easy. I did, though I suspect they meant to take it easy on the mileage while I meant effort level. My commute is a bit over 9 miles. If that's too long then the only option is to do a shorter run before heading off for work but that would also mean getting up very early and sacrificing sleep - I can do that, have done it plenty of times before, but did not see the need this time round, so a slow jog into the office it was on Monday morning.

That one went very well, actually. The legs were a bit sore, from Saturday's hilly parkrun no doubt, but the rest of me felt perfectly fine and I got a pleasant surprise when I checked the heart rate, which had jumped down a level - again, another thing caused by that parkrun. However, that one was a nice one to have.

For the rest for the week I just continued the pattern of running into work and cycling home, or the other way round. I could still feel some pressure on my chest, and I was not just imagining that, it definitely was there. However, it did not bother me as long as I kept the effort under a certain threshold. It's not that slow either- doing 7:30 pace was still okay but anything faster than that and my breathing would start to get affected, so I'll stay away from faster efforts for the time being.

Thursday evening was the first run this week without any chest pressure whatsoever. I know this hasn't gone away but it is clearly improving.

It has been suggested that the whole problem might have been caused by some viral infection, which I think is very much a possibility. I also think I've had this for several weeks already. I remember one run a few weeks ago that felt like I only half of my lung capacity available - I'm sure it was the same issue that affected me on Saturday.

If I weren't a runner I probably would not even notice anything was wrong at all because it does not affect me apart from when I'm exercising. So, I will continue running, but will stay away from any fast efforts until I feel I can handle them again. That also means no more parkruns for a while, which is a shame. Ah well.
28 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:17:17, 8:27 pace, HR 137
29 Aug
9.25 miles, 1:12:40, 7:51 pace, HR 148
30 Aug
9.2 miles, 1:16:38, 8:20 pace, HR 142
31 Aug
9.2 Miles, 1:13:02, 7:56 pace, HR 146

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Night From Hell


bored
I was wondering if I should even write about last night but I guess I should.

After some deliberation I decided to do a parkrun on Saturday. I ran my 3 miles towards Cabinteely as a warm up and got there in good time. I had a chat with Niall, whom I had not seen in ages and who was helping out as a volunteer, and then it was time for the start.

The legs did not feel great, to be honest, but that can change when the gun goes off. However, within a few seconds I knew immediately that today would not be a day fro racing for me. Despite the run featuring a downhill start and me taking it reasonably easy (certainly not 5k race effort), my breathing immediately got out of whack, so I decided to take it easy. I won't say I was jogging it because that would be disrespectful to the other runners, but I ran it as a short 3-mile tempo effort.
very bored

It's a damn hilly parkrun and you have to climb that hill 3 times, which can be hell. However, with me taking it relatively easy I never felt that acid burn in the legs and there was no suffering to be had - however, my breathing was very, very laboured. One cheeky chap overtook me right at the finish line with a sustained finishing sprint which left me in 15th place in a very, very modest 21:45, the slowest 5k I have run in over 10 years by quite some margin, but hey.

I jogged home, had a shower, and went to spend the rest of the weekend with my family who had come up from Kerry. Or so I thought. What did actually happen was that I still felt a pressure on my chest 3 hours later, which had me worried enough to go and seek medical advice. As Niamh had predicted, if you turn up and complain of chest pains they immediately send you to hospital, which is what they did, after taking 2 ECGs and giving me some medication that miraculously lifted the pressure within 2 seconds - it felt like a balloon stuck inside my chest was deflating rapidly.

extremely bored
After a fun ride in the ambulance to St. Vincent's it was time to wait. And wait. More ECG. Blood tests. Chest X-ray. And waiting. 6 hours after the first tests, another round of ECG and bloods. And the refusal to let me go home despite feeling perfectly fine, ever since that medication hours earlier (stating that the rapid relief of symptoms actually indicated heart troubles). I had to stay overnight in A&E, which meant I heard the old confused guy screaming at the nurses having to go to the toiled but refusing to go to where the were trying to get him, I saw some guy clearly under influence of various substances falling about, I heard an old lady with a broken hip screaming in pain (that one was particularly distressing) and of course some guy throwing up violently, this was A&E on a Saturday after all.

Every time I saw a new nurse or doctor I had to explain that my HR was so low because I was an endurance athlete. That happened a lot.

the things you do when you're bored
What I did not get was sleep, especially since I was hooked up on a cardiac monitor that sounded an alarm every time my HR dropped under 45, which happens to be higher than my resting HR, so every time I did manage to drop off I was immediately woken by an alarm, until I figured out at 2 or 3 am on how to re-program the alarm, which I'm sure the doctors and nurses would not have approved of. Oh, and they woke us at 3:30 to move us from trolleys into beds, surely only in order to massage their statistics on trolley use by patients.

Oh, and no dinner. I had Niamh smuggle in some food for me or I would have starved!

I'm not making any of this up.

In the morning I eventually was met by the cardiologist who said my tests came all back perfect, I had zero risk indicators and whatever happened the day before could not have been heart related. He suspected Exercise Induced Asthma (which was what I thought it was back in Cabinteely), though explained that it was actually a misnomer as it's not asthma. Oh, and he cleared me for running, without restrictions.

So basically, according to the doctor there is nothing wrong with me. That's the second cardiologist I've ever seen to tell me that.

Except that I need some sleep now!

I'm tempted to say that the lesson learned was not to go to a doctor with chest pains but - yeah, there is a fairly obvious problem with that approach.
24 Aug
8.3 miles, 1:12:19,8:37 pace,  HR 148
   incl 6 x 8 sec hill sprints
25 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:15:28, 8:15 pace, HR 146
26 Aug
9 miles, incl Cabinteely parkrun in 21:45, 7:00



pace, HR 166

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Lessons. Learned?

Things are progressing nicely so far. Having said that, I'm only 3 weeks into training so it's still very early days, obviously.

I was slightly nervous about doing back-to-back 10 milers at home, though I shouldn't have been - it's only a tiny bit further than my commute and not much more hilly.

The commute itself has added an interesting training component. It's basically a back-to-back workout followed by a longer recovery. If I cycle in on Monday morning then I run back on Monday evening. Less than 12 hours later I am running back into the office on Tuesday morning but then I have almost 36 hours of rest before Wednesday's evening run.

As with all back-to-back workouts, much depends on how you run the first one. It's a lesson I learned (yet again) today. Last night's run was a tad too fast, especially as it was against a steady headwind as well as (slightly) uphill. As a result, I did suffer a bit this morning, clearly not yet fully recovered. The last 3 or 4 miles were definitely dragging, and I ran over 15 seconds a mile slower than the day before, at the same HR, despite this being the downhill leg. Lesson learned? We'll see!

I might do a parkrun this weekend. I probably should take care with faster efforts as it's still so early, but a parkrun is never a full-out race. Hopefully. Anyway, it's such a great institution that it should be supported, and with so many parkruns in Dublin I am keen to visit a few of them over the following months - depending on how many weekends I'm spending in Dublin rather than Kerry, of course.
20 Aug
10 miles, 1:21:36, 8:09 pace, HR 146
21 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:13:57, 8:04 pace
22 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:13:00, 7:58 pace, HR 148
23 Aug
9.2 miles, 1:15:55, 8:13 pace, HR 148

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Homeward Bound

Thursday's run into work was the last run commute of the week. The legs felt somewhere between tired and okay. I took it easy until I got to Sandymount promenade when a runner got onto my tail. As much as I tried NOT to get into a silly little race, I could not help accelerating a bit. He stayed right there on my tail - I think he used me as a pacemaker for a mile or 2 of tempo effort. Mind, it still was only 7:40-ish pace, so neither of us was going as fast as we thought we were, I suppose. On the plus side, the legs felt all the better for it!

Since I'm driving to Kerry on Fridays, that day of the week I'm running early, before setting off to work. I did a slightly short run but ended it with a couple of hill sprints. That was just for testing out things - see how the legs would respond when suddenly being asked to work at full power (they seemed fine) and if that steep little rise near home was suitable (just about long enough for 8 seconds). This time round it was only 2 sprints - I'll do more next time, and certainly not after 6 miles of running. You want you legs to be somewhat fresh when sprinting.

I was back home on Saturday so I went out for a 10 mile run along Caragh Lake. According to strava this was my first 10 mile run on that road for almost 1 months! Seriously? It used to be my bread and butter run, several times a week before work! Anyway, I really enjoyed being back on that road, so familiar that I know all of the stone chippings by name. The legs seemed to enjoy it as well, they felt pretty good and didn't even mind the stiff headwind.

After complaining last week that my numbers had stagnated, this week has seen another massive jump in the numbers. I've been astounded by seeing the HR in the mid 140 already and the HR alarm, which used to go on incessantly even on easy efforts, has more or less remained silent. I haven't even been back running for 3 weeks yet; what's it going to be like in 10 months?
16 Aug
9.2 miles, 1:16:34, 8:19 pace, HR 151
17 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:13:42, 8:03 pace, HR 150
18 Aug
6.5 miles, 53:21, 8:12 pace, HR 146
   2 hill sprints
19 Aug
10 miles, 1:21:35, 8:09 pace, HR 145

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ardmore

I don't exactly have a lot of experience with 5 star hotels, but out of the 4 I have stayed in the Cliff Hotel in Ardmore, Waterford, reigns supreme. The location, the room, the service, the meals ... bloody hell. Incidentally, that's also what my bank manager will say in a couple of weeks when he sees the bill as this was my first stay in said establishments where I had to foot the bill myself. Ah well, it's the least the lady deserved after 20 years with me!

Oh, you wanted to hear about running? Actually, Ardmore is a great spot for running as well. On Saturday I did a run a on stony trail along the cliffs, the major drawback being that the stunning views and the stony grounds had me stumble a few times and while I managed to avoid a face plant, or falling off the cliff, grabbing a gorse bush for hold wasn't the smartest thing ever and my hand is still sore, a few days later.

It's a great place to build up your hill running fitness - the one thing missing being flat roads. But the roads were so quiet, there was even less traffic than in Caragh lake - I never once encountered a car outside Ardmore itself.

Alas, by Monday morning reality had caught up again and I was back in Dublin. This week I started my new commute routine. Monday, cycling into work, running home. Tuesday, running into work, cycling home. Same again on Wednesday - Thursday, and then the car on Friday to enable a quick exit back to Kerry. It's just over 9 miles each way, which is a good bit longer than the runs I had done up to now. Thankfully, my legs had appreciated the weekend in Ardmore and rebounded well, so even though the run back home was longer than usual, uphill and against the wind, never mind the pouring rain, I got home just fine and still feeling pretty good. However, doing the same in return just 12 hours was just a bit much and the last 3 miles were definitely dragging. I'll see how that goes but I'm sure things will pick up quickly again.
12 Aug
6 miles, 51:45, 8:38 pace, HR 147
   partially on trail
13 Aug
6.4 miles, 52:56, 8:16 pace, HR 146
14 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:15:09, 8:13 pace, HR 148
15 Aug
9.15 miles, 1:16:33, 8:22 pace, HR 150

Friday, August 11, 2017

Patience? Adjustments?

Surely it is a bit early to be getting impatient already? I've been back on the road for less than 2 weeks now and I'm already starting to wish this would go a bit quicker! I know that's a bit silly, especially since I mentioned a 13 seconds per mile improvement over 4 days in my last post, which is hardly lack of progress. The thing is, the legs have felt rather heavy the last couple of days. I think it's the combined load of running 6 miles and cycling 18 (my commute) that's responsible for that. However, since I'm not cycling on Fridays (because I'm heading out of town straight after work) and the weekend I figured I keep going as it is and see if I feel better by Monday. If not then I will have to cut back a bit - which feels ridiculous, as I'm not even running 45 miles this week!

But yes, there was a distinct lack of progress all of a sudden, the last few days, and if it staus that way I need to ease up.

Yesterday morning my chest felt a bit restricted, which was not a nice feeling at all. It was like I had only 75% of lung capacity available - thankfully I didn't need any more at my slow pace, and after a few miles that restriction went away. I'm not sure what it was - I don't have hay fever at this time of year, and I'm not asthmatic.

I've been experimenting with a couple of routes for my cycle commute and the one I prefer happens to be the same path I'm doing most of my running on at the moment. I'm actually surprised that it is so quiet - I would have thought it would be much, much busier. I prefer a few miles of cycle paths away from roads and away from traffic lights. Why don't the rest of you?

Anyway, I'm looking forward to my weekend now. If you're looking for me, I'll be the one in the posh and expensive hotel.
8 Aug
6.3 miles, 51:14, 8:08 pace, HR 149
9 Aug
6.3 miles, 51:30, 8:10 pace, HR 149
10 Aug
6.3 miles, 50:57, 8:05 pace, HR 151
11 Aug
6.3 miles, 51:24, 8:10 pace, HR 151

Monday, August 07, 2017

A New Beginning

I'm only having sporadic access to a computer at the moment, so there is the possibility of longer breaks between posts at the moment. The reason for that is that I figured I'm spending way too much time in front of a screen - 8-9 hours a day at work and then another 2 or more at home. So I decided not to get a computer in my new apartment. I might change my mind after a while - but not yet. Right now I'm tempted to throw away my phone as well. I'm wasting far too much time being plugged in when I should just go out and enjoy a walk in the fresh air or something like that.

Maybe I'm just getting old.

At least my running is taking off again. I've slowly upped the mileage this week, though it's still rather modest. As in previous training cycles, the HR at the moment is sky high but I'm not taking any notice of that. It will come down quickly over the next few weeks into more "acceptable" territory. I've been through that often enough by now. Today already was 13 seconds quicker per mile than 4 days ago, despite running further. If only progress kept going at that rate!

I've moved into a new flat. It's good to have a place of my own again. It's further away from work, not quite 9 miles, which, unlike most, I actually see as a positive. I'm already looking forward to cycling and running in and out of work on my new route. Today is a bank holiday, so tomorrow will be the first day of my new commute.

When looking at running options at my new abode via google maps I realised that I had been running close to that area for years every time I had been in Dublin. I just had not noticed that the paths from Dean's Grange through Kilbogget on onwards were less than a mile from here. It also means that for the first time in my running life I'm just a warm-up jog away from a track, albeit a dirt track. Still, it will undoubtedly see some use over the next few months.

I'm now up to 6.5 miles in my daily runs, which I'm adapting to reasonably quickly, so I'll soon feel up to running either in our out of work. And then, after a little more time, real training can begin.
3 Aug
4 miles, 33:21, 8:20 pace, HR 153
4 Aug
4 miles, 32:00, 8:00 pace, HR 158
5 Aug
5 miles, 42:07, 8:25 pace, HR 151
6 Aug
6.5 miles, 53:22, 8:12 pace, HR 148
7 Aug
6.25 miles, 50:46, 8:07 pace, HR 153

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Ultra Begins - The Reboot!

It feels good to be back!

Well. Ok. Actually, it doesn't feel all the great. Physically, that is. Mentally I'm happy like a pig in the proverbial.

I set out on a glorious Monday morning, the first run after a break of 4 weeks. My watch must have lost something during that break because it first took ages to pick up the satellite and then overestimated the distance by at least 10% during the first mile. Never mind, forget the watch, it's teh legs that matter. I expected this to be a slow 10-minute mile slog and me being exhausted after 2 miles. Instead I felt much better than I could have hoped for and after the 2 miles were over decided to tack on some extra. I actually sped up with each lap and was cruising close to 7:30 pace at the end. After 3 miles I, slightly reluctantly, went home. This was the first run after a long break and I did not want to overdo it. The last thing I want to do is to out myself out of commission by ramping up too quickly and getting injured before training has even started.

Oh, and it may have been just a tad under 3 miles, owing to the GPS hickup. Let's call it 2.9 miles. Yes, I'm a numbers geek.

I guess I had overdone it anyway. The hamstrings were sore on Tuesday. I ran 2.5 miles, a bit slower. The HR alarm on my watch starts beeping at 150. It beeped again after a mile.

On Wednesday the hamstrings were better but the calves were complaining. Ah, the joys of running. I slogged through the first mile, kind of wishing to be back in bed.

Then I thought of 2 friends (Klemens was a team mate in Turin 2015, Angelika is the team's physio) who are presently running the Deutschlandlauf, a 19-stage race across the entire length of Germany, average stage length 43 miles(!!!), which stopped the inner whining voice for good. I did 3 miles in the rain, this time slowing down a little when the HR alarm but still already faster than the first couple of days.

Right now it's all about getting used to running again. This is very early days, literally.
31 Jul
2.9 miles, 24:07, 8:19 pace, HR 151
1 Aug
2.5 miles, 21:20, 8:31 pace, HR 148
2 Aug
3 miles, 24:10, 8:03 pace, HR 150

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Touristy Things

Yesterday I was running, for miles and miles, completely effortlessly, going much faster than I could have expected, marvelling at how easy it felt after such a long break.

Then I woke up. Ah well. I strongly suspect when I start running again, in the real world, it won't come quite as easily.

Meanwhile I'm just being a tourist. That actually includes a fair amount of walking, so maybe it serves as a tiny little help before I get started again, though I doubt it will make any noticeable difference.

I got one running-related email the the other day, and what a humdinger that was. They reviewed the data from the World Championship in Belfast and the changes at the top end are massive! In the men's results, silver and bronze medals have been reversed. The order of the women's individual results has not changed but another lap got added to Patrycja Bereznowska world record. In the team events the US have gotten a particularly raw deal: their women's gold medals have been downgraded to silver and their men are losing their medals completely after being moved down to fourth. Bloody Hell! I have to say, this does not reflect well on Ireland. I've never seen such a mess.

Oh, and my own results are unchanged. That's not unexpected - I had analysed my own data already and found it perfectly plausible - if very, very disappointing.

Meanwhile, I have decided to definitely give the 24 hours one more go. I want to know if I still have it in me. I have plenty of plans of running hundreds of miles in preparation - if that's what happens, we shall see. It worked in 2014!

Meanwhile, here are some touristy impressions of Vienna:

















Thursday, July 20, 2017

Idleness

What does a runner do when he's not running? Mostly thinking about running, I suppose. Usually I'd start training again when I get as itchy as I am now but since I'm about to go away on holidays I'll add another week of full rest.

I noticed that some of my clothes are starting to fit me again. I haven't stepped on a weighing scale recently but the fact that I no longer require a belt to stop my trousers from falling down indicates that I have put on a few pounds - no bad thing, really.

When I first started my new job and saw that they get a delivery of fresh fruit twice a week I thought the quality of my diet would take a step up. I didn't account for the fact that there is also a culture of having a constant supply of biscuits and chocolate at the ready, plus there is a baking roster every Friday, so with my notorious sweet tooth my sugar intake has probably spiked - not good, and something I will need to get on top of. But the month after a big race is not the time to return to an ascetic existence just yet.

I do have a problem with one of the muscles in my left thigh. I think it's the sartorius muscle, though I could be off by one muscle in that group. I start feeling a burning sensation after prolonged sitting, which can become seriously uncomfortable (and I like to think my pain threshold is rather high). It all started last autumn but eventually went away earlier this year, only to come back recently. The pain disappears almost immediately when I get up and walk around but if I'm stuck in a meeting that's not always possible. Sitting in the car for 4 hours when driving from or to Kerry isn't ideal either. In fact, I strongly suspect that the long hours of driving have something to do with this re-occurring. I haven't managed to convince the missus that she should come up to visit  me on weekends rather than the other way round, though.

But first I'm off to Vienna for a week. Prost!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

"Good Morning Forrest"

I've acquired a new nickname at work. It's not the most original of nicknames, I know. Besides, I would have thought Brian Ankers had than angle covered already, in perpetuity.

People have been congratulating me all the time since that race and every time I feel like screaming that it was my worst performance ever.

Time heals the wounded I suppose. The legs are feeling perfectly recovered but the mind is still on hibernation. Anyway, I know from last year that it's not a good idea to rush back into training, so I won't.

I do, however, want to give it one more go. My 24 hours career started with 3 very good races in a row and continued with 3 disappointing ones after that, so I guess I need a tie breaker to decide if it was good or bad. I am wondering what went so wrong in Belfast, my head or my legs, but I strongly suspect it was the legs. Whether that was down to old age or not enough miles in training I can't tell for sure. However, I won't be going into my next training cycle in an overtrained state, so it's definitely worth giving it one more try. Where that will be, I still don't know. I have plenty of time to make up my mind.

Also, I finally might have found a place to stay in Dublin, though it's not finalised yet. Am I nuts for preferring a place a bit further out so I can get a decent run in as my commute (don't answer that!)?

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Wounded


It's been a week since Belfast and I've had plenty of time licking my wounds. Mental wounds, that is. Physically I'm nowhere near as bad as I expected to be - I didn't run far enough to do myself some real proper damage, I suppose.

When things were still fun, 5 or 6 hours in
I have spent many hours of the Belfast race, as well as many before and many since, wondering if I had done myself some damage during the Spartathlon in 2015. It had been a monumental effort, pushing myself far beyond anything I have ever done before or since, including the day when I ran 225k. I have never felt 100% since that race.

I still don't know.  Maybe I'm just worrying too much, and maybe I'm just coming up with that as an excuse every time I hit the buffers.

On the other hand, I know I was lacking in miles during the training, both in long runs as well as overall mileage. I was coming back from overtraining, so there was a limit on how much I could do, and in the end it wasn't quite sufficient. I did okay for 12 hours. Then the tank was empty.

I managed to get my lap times from the IAU website and put them into a spreadsheet. I noticed two things straight away. One, right from the start they are a bit slower than what my watch said. Two, they look believable. There is talk that the official results might be unreliable. I think mine are correct. The organisers didn't help themselves by displaying wrong information during the race and then not displaying anything at all, but my numbers withstood a closer examination.

And when I created a little graph, it didn't make for pleasant viewing.

Right now, I'm doing fine physically. I could walk down a staircase without wincing even the day after the race. I don't think I've ever taken so little damage out of a long ultra. One of my toenails is dark and I expect it may come off eventually, everything else is fine.

Definitely no longer fun. Photo by The Galway COW
Mentally, I'm more affected. I've had two very disappointing races in a row, both of them international races. My career in the national team may well be finished, and I sure would have preferred to go out in a different way. But after some thought, and with the memory of the pain fading already, I'm coming round to the idea of giving it one more shot, next year. I don't know where yet. I'm definitely never going back onto the concrete of Victoria Park but if they move that race back onto the Mary Peters track I will consider it. There are other options as well, but we'll see. There is a long time left until I have to make a decision.

Meanwhile, I'm taking the entire July off. That will coincide with a week of holiday, which means that for once I might actually be able to go on holidays with normal clothes - usually my running gear more or less fills the suitcase and everything else will have to be rationed, much to Niamh's chagrin. After that I will start running again, mostly for fun for the rest of the year.



Tuesday, July 04, 2017

Anatomy Of A Disaster

In the days leading up to the race I felt strangely detached from it all, as if I was watching from the outside. That was very much n contrast to 2 years ago, in Turin, when I had been a bundle of nerves for several days. Maybe the fact that my home race was suddenly the World Championship made it all feel unreal to me, but I did wonder why my head wasn't in it.

Things changed completely overnight. As soon as I woke up on Saturday, race day, I panicked at the thought of having to run for 24 hours. Breakfast was a nervous affair and the last minute packing was all a bit frantic, even though I literally had hours to spare.

I calmed down somewhat when I met my Austrian team mates at the race course and we all got ready for the start. Then, with about 30 minutes to go, I suddenly realized that I had no idea where my timing chip was. I went through all my belongings, increasingly panicky and out of my mind, until our team manager suggested talking to the RD. I have known the RD, Ed Smith, for years, which helped and within a few minutes he had procured a timing chip from one of the open race competitors that had not turned up, and they re-programmed it on the spot. Problem solved, panic averted. I owe Ed a pint or five. Reinhold, the team manager, quipped that a last-minute adrenaline shot may have some positive effects, and that was that. By now it was time to gather for the start.

Things weren't quite as organized, many open race and international runners seemed mingled together rather than separated as they had been in Turin and Albi, not that it made any difference to me. At 12 o'clock we all set off on our long, long journey, at a very sedate pace. This was going to last for quite some time.

I settled into the slowest pace that still felt comfortable. That's tricky, especially when you're full of energy and have been raring to go for quite some time. For me, it was just under 9-minute miles. According to my strava data my third mile was a tiny bit quick at 8:35 but the rest was more in line with expectations - and 8:35 isn't THAT quick, not even for a 24. In my best races I had faster miles in there.

The race course was the same as for the Irish championships last year, Victoria Park. Since last year's race I have mixed feelings about the setting. The park itself is marvelous and the course is very flat. However, the running surface is made of concrete. Last year a lot of runners gave up at some point because their legs could not stand the brutally hard surface any more. But many of the ones who managed to keep going posted great results, so it's a tough but potentially fast course. I guess that makes for an intriguing world championship.

The weather forecast had been excellent for running with temperatures no higher than 16 or 18 degrees, depending on whom you believed, and maybe a little bit of rain in the evening. The temperature bit was right but the rain arrived much earlier than forecast and we were treated to some typical Irish weather in the still early hours of the race - rain, followed by sunshine 5 minutes later, followed by some more rain, and repeat. Eventually the rain stopped, and I heard the announcer saying something about the next 18 hours being dry, which turned out to be correct. All in all, the conditions for running were excellent.

During one of the early laps I looked up and right in front of me there was Patrycja Bereznowska running just a few steps behind Tracy Falbo. How often do you have the chance to witness two world record holders live in action like that?

I passed the marathon mark pretty much exactly in 4 hours. That's what I expect to be my early pace in all of my 24 hour races, so all was good. And, most importantly, I felt good, very much in contrast to Albi last year when I was totally knackered at that point already. Things were definitely looking good and I was optimistic for the next 20 hours ahead.

With this being my home race there were tons of friends around, some of them running the course, either as internationals or in the open race, but also as spectators, volunteers and crew. I got plenty of cheers. That's what I love about ultra running. Virtually everyone is supportive and friendly and there is always a ton of mutual respect amongst all the runners. It's what shared suffering does to a group of people, I suppose.

I did have a bit of a problem with the fact that international runners were not allowed to run together with anyone from the open race, or anyone from the other gender, because that could be interpreted as illegal pacing. Obviously, many times I found myself running side-by-side with someone I knew very well, and of course we did chat for a few minutes. However, I was always conscious of that rule, so after a while I always had to send them off again, not daring to risk the wrath of the judges - though in reality I think they weren't bothered by runners chatting while running together for a lap or two.

Running for many hours in a 1-mile loop doesn't lend itself to a race report because details are merging into each other, time gets lost and the increasing fatigue plays all kind of tricks on you.

At one point Katy Nagy went past me and a few second later Florian Reus did the same, so I had a front seat witnessing the two reigning World champions greeting each other happily, and the mutual respect between those two great athletes was great to see.

I still felt pretty good during the second marathon and reached 80k in about 8 hours. 10 km per hour is exactly what I expect to run for many an hour - in Belfast 2014 I managed it for almost 16 hours before slowing down, so it certainly did not ring any alarm bells whatsoever. But I must have started slowing down a bit around that time, though very gradually at first. I still felt reasonably okay. Obviously there was a fair amount of fatigue but after so many hours that was perfectly normal, especially with my usual bedtime approaching.

My stomach held up well. At some point I took some caffeine, after which it felt a bit iffy for a while, but it settled down again and all was good. Lack of nutrition certainly was not an issue today. I drank plenty but didn't use the toilet for almost 10 hours, which may be longer than you might expect but not unusual for me.

At one point Pat Robbins passed me (again) and when I said "Hi Pat", as you do, he did something I really had not expected, he slowed down to my pace for half a lap and we had a nice little chat for a few minutes. Thanks Pat, very much appreciated! It wasn't just him, the entire British team were absolute top class, as runners as well as extremely nice human beings. So were the Irish. And a few others. Have I mentioned how much I love the camaraderie and mutual support amongst ultra runners?

There was a screen with lap times and overall mileage at the start/finish line. That was a great feedback device and in fact that screen was the reason why I wore my glasses today. Usually I'm happy enough to run half-blind but today I wanted to be able to check my progress, which is important, mentally especially. Therefore it was a bit annoying that it kept failing, either being frozen or turned off completely. At first I thought the rain had affected it but they got it working again and then it remained dry, yet the screen kept failing again and again. Not good.

The other thing that wasn't good was that my legs started complaining. Obviously everyone gets tired after running for many hours. I get that. But I have been there many times before, and the way my legs went downhill wasn't the same. It was the quads especially, though the hamstrings weren't happy either. By contrast, my calf muscles, so often my weak spot, were behaving impeccably. Before the race I would have bet my house on the fact that the weakest link would be my calves.

Anyway, working somewhere in the haze of increasing exhaustion and burning quads, I kept going. And going. And going. I was still happy enough with my progress but then I noticed something very strange. A look at the screen, showed me at 88 laps. When I then looked at my watch, it said 83 miles. That did not make sense because 83 miles on a loop of just over 1 mile would be closer to 81 or 82 laps. I think I was still puzzling at the conundrum (the brain starts working in slow motion after so many hours of running) when a few laps later the screen said 95 laps when a look at my watch said it could not be more than 85 laps. What the **** was going on here? Were they counting laps twice? Was my "borrowed" timing chip an issue? I resolved to check again the next lap but when I came through the finish the screen was blank again. I didn't know it at the time, but it would remain blank for the entire rest of the race!

Things are getting increasingly hazy from here on, so some details and times may be getting mixed up. My legs went downhill very quickly. I went from running the entire lap to walking through the feed zone, to walking half a lap, to walking the entire lap in an alarmingly rapid decline. My energy levels seemed fine and my stomach was still taking just about anything they gave me. But my quads were shot and I just could not lift the legs any more. Walking was okay for the time being and I was optimistic that the good times would return eventually - in a 24 hours race you will always have big ups and downs, you just have to handle them.

From my watch as well as the screen I figured I had been close to 120k at the halfway mark, so a decent final tally seemed still on the cards. It was now past midnight and once I stopped running I got cold quickly, so I put on my jacket. The other things I noticed was that I had to go to the toilet almost every lap - and that after not going at all for the first 10 hours! I reduced my fluid intake, which got that issue back into balance. However, my quads just would no cooperate.

At one point, in desperation, I took one paracetamol. I did not like doing that. It's just a bad idea. Pain is there for a reason and masking it to push yourself through it is just asking for injury and health issues, but there comes a point when you try just about anything. Well, it did get me back running. For all of three laps, so about half an hour. Then it was over again. No more running. I also decided no more pain killers. While I was prepared to hurt, I wasn't prepared to damage myself, at least no more than whatever damage came "naturally".

I won't go into too much detail; I don't want to wallow in misery and go through the entire ordeal again. I spent many hours contemplating quitting, both that race specifically as well as ultra running in general. And of course I wasn't the only one suffering, half the field was struggling, including some of the best runners in the world. I no longer had to worry about being accused of illegal pacing, so I had the chance to chat with Andrew, Darren, Dennis, Aoife, Aine and a few others while we slowly circled Victoria Park again and again and again (apologies to anyone not mentioned).

After a few hours of walking (as well as 12 of running), my feet were swollen and the shoes felt increasingly uncomfortable. The top of my feet seemed to press against the laces so I decided to change shoes. My other pair were some Hokas, which I don't actually like because the cushioning feels wrong and takes away energy from my stride, but they were slightly larger and I knew they would feel better at that stage. When I put on one of the shoes I noticed something in there. I reached inside - and pulled out MY TIMING CHIP!!! So that's where it had been, and if I hadn't completely lost my head in my panic I sure would have found it before the race. Ah well. Too late for that now.

Since this race was held at the start of July and fairly high up north, the night was very short and after only a couple of hours of darkness the light returned already. If I had been running I would have very much welcomed the sun - walking through my misery as I was, it didn't make much of a difference.

At some point our team physio decided to give my quads a massage, to which I agreed only too willingly, mostly because it gave me an excuse to sit down for a couple of minutes. I expected this to be rather painful but she was actually quite gentle. Alas, as far as running was concerned, it did not make any difference whatsoever. My quads remained as dead as a dodo.

My legs weren't the only thing out of whack. Doing constant calculations in my head I kept thinking that 200k were still very much on the cards, until the moment when Finn O'Mara patiently explained to me that with 15 hours gone there were only 9 left to go, not 11 as I kept on thinking. Oops. Actually, the fact that I was disappointed by the fact that my projected mileage had just taken a fatal blow rather than relieved that I was closer to the finish is a good thing. At least mentally I had still been in the race.

The hours ticked by slowly and I was still walking. At some point I stopped questioning myself why I was still doing this because even that started to get old. I really have to thank the crews from the open race for their never-ending support and cheerful attitude. Ger, Don, Audrey, George, … ok, I should not start naming names, I can't possibly list them all. If you were there, consider yourself thanked. I can’t remember all the names, there were too many of you!

Usually towards the end of such a slog you start smelling the finish and the legs start responding again. Not so this time. If anything, things got worse. After too many hours even walking had become increasingly painful and when I tried running again I was more likely to fall over than to gain speed, and now my energy levels dropped to zero and even remaining upright was challenging enough on its own. I remember one particular moment when I needed to use the fence near the finish line to stop myself from falling over but thankfully that was once-off. Right at the end I really was at the end of my tether. I didn’t even hear the final claxon and only reacted to others stopping still.

Done. Finally done. There was a tree nearby and I rested against it, waiting for the measurement wheel to come by. I really wanted to lie down but knew that I would not be able to get up again. However, within less than half a minute (estimated) my ears started ringing and black spots started appearing in front of my eyes. I’ve been there before and knew I had only a couple of seconds before I would pass out. I didn’t want to fall down and bang my head uncontrollably but my legs wouldn’t bend over either. Thankfully two guys nearby saw me and literally caught me. I mumbled something that I was about to faint but probably didn’t sound too coherent, though the message got through. Whoever you were, thanks a lot! I lay in the grass for a while and even that was uncomfortable. Some sugary drink got some balance back into the system and they eventually helped me up and I slowly, very slowly made my way back to the tent.

Not much was said there. I mumbled something along the lines of “I would love to say that was the hardest thing I've ever done but I'm sure Spartathlon was worse!” which pretty much sums up my day. My watch displayed 121.7 miles, and even with the usual slight overestimation you get from a GPS device I thought at least I had cracked 120 miles but the official results have me at 115 miles / 185 km. I have no idea where that massive gap came from. I thought I was very close to 120k at the halfway stage, and surely I must have walked more than 65 k in 12 hours! Maybe the data at the halfway mark was off already, but when I compared the watch and screen data after 50 miles/ 80k / 8 hours, there was about half a mile of difference, so I would have expected a total discrepancy of maybe 1.5 miles at the end, not almost 7 miles!

I'm not disputing the official result, it was just one final disappointment at the end of a thoroughly disappointing race. This just wasn’t good enough. Not good enough for me, and most definitely not good enough by international standards.

Let's finish on a positive note. I once more managed to keep going even when things had long gone south, which must count for something, though I very much preferred never to go there again. And being in the same race where Patrycja Bereznowska set yet another amazing world record was quite something.
1 Jul
24 hrs World Championships, Belfast
185.48 km / 115.25 miles
103rd place / 17th M45